Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Test Drive: 2017 Mazda6 Touring

On the second leg of my recent business trip, I arrived late in the day and found myself waiting in line at the rental car counter as several passengers who seem to have never rented a car before inquired about every possible question for every possible scenario known to man. Nearly twenty minutes later, I finally sidle up to the counter and am handed the keys to a surprising selection, the Mazda6. Even though it took my 20 minutes before I was handed the keys, I was in the car and on the road in a matter of minutes. This is why I hate renting in places that do not have Emerald Aisle or its equivalent with other rental companies. Being able to pick my own car and drive away within minutes of exiting the plane is something you don't truly appreciate until you can't do it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Test Drive: 2017 Hyundai Sonata SE

Let me start by saying that I cannot understand why rental car companies think Nissan products are acceptable as "upgrades" to reservations. I say that because for this trip, when I arrived at the Avis rental car counter, they cheerily told me that I had received a free upgrade to a Nissan Altima, to which I promptly replied, "Do you have anything else?" What I got was a relatively new Hyundai Sonata, which I promptly accepted. Yes, I have a personal aversion to Nissan products after having a number of not great (read downright awful) experiences with them, but more importantly, I find the quality of Nissan's interiors and the mechanical drone of their CVT transmissions among the most mind-numbingly retched experiences ever conceived by a modern automaker. You know it is bad when I am happy to accept the barely beyond entry level option from a different automaker just to avoid having to suffer in a Nissan. But enough about my disdain for them, and on to the Hyundai Sonata that I spent several hundred miles with.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Test Drive: 2017 Ford Fusion Titanium

Among mid-size sedans, Ford's Fusion has always been one of our more favored choices. When renting cars, I tend to steer away from any Nissan, Toyota, and Dodge products while Hyundai and Ford tend to find themselves at the top of my list. So on the second leg of our all-Ford weekend (click here to read part one), I was pleased to be able to snag an almost brand new Ford Fusion Titanium for my time in the DC Metro area. Once again, National's Emerald Club program proves why it is my favorite option when renting from an airport. After grabbing the keys and tossing our luggage in the spacious trunk, we headed out for our weekend in our old stomping grounds.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Long Term Test: 2014 Ford Focus Electric post #5

The Focus has been both great, in that it requires little maintenance, but terrible in that it is the car among the many I have owned, that has required the most unscheduled time in the shop. Some of it was the result of other people's inattentiveness, but some of it was the result of issues with the car or associated accessories. Even so, the Focus EV has been a very reliable car by most standards given that the issues that we have experienced with it have not been with the drive motor or high voltage battery, but rather with other minor systems. Let's take a closer look.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura RLX wrap up

It was a long time coming, but after three years, our 2014 Acura RLX has finally been retired. Over the course of the three years we had the RLX, it served us well as a daily commuter, grocery getter, and occasional road trip car. With our folks retired now, keeping around a large luxury sedan, just like keeping around a large SUV, seemed pointless. Most of the RLX's former duties have been taken over by our 2016 Honda Accord Touring, which serves these duties just as well as, if not better than, the RLX. Over the course of the three years though, we've come to learn a lot about Acura's full-sized luxury sedan. Here are some of the things we liked and disliked about our 2014 Acura RLX Tech.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Test Drive: 2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

It's been three years since I last tested a Honda Civic Si. The last model I tested was the second refresh of the ninth generation Si coupe. Equipped with a K24 2.4 liter four-cylinder, this particular Si felt somewhat neutered compared to the eighth generation Si. For the 10th generation, Honda opted for a beefier version of the 1.5 liter, turbo four-cylinder out of the Civic sedan, coupe, and hatchback. I was originally fairly skeptical when it was announced that Honda would be using this smaller engine since everyone in the enthusiast community was expecting a de-tuned version of the Type-R's 2.0 liter turbo four. Now that I've had the chance to experience the car with the turbo 1.5, do I still think it needs the Type-R's motor? I'll get to that in a bit. Let's start with the rest of the car.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Test Ride: 2017 BMW R1200RS

It has been a while since I had a chance to ride a new motorcycle. Even when I have attended the International Motorcycle Show, the bikes usually have quite a few miles on them. When I rent a bike from a place like Motoquest, the bikes frequently have serious miles. So during my recent hunting online for motorcycles, I came across reviews for a new bike from BMW, the R1200RS. This took the new air and water-cooled flat twin engine from BMW's insanely popular GS adventure bike and places it into a frame that is set up more for sport touring. I absolutely love the torque of the GS flat-twin; this is one of the most iconic engines in motorcycling made better by the addition of water-cooling to create something with more power and ever more reliability. The idea of taking this new, better engine and the ultra-reliable maintenance-free Paralever shaft-drive rear-end and applying it to something more sport touring oriented was certainly very intriguing.

On a day when I needed to be available due to a termite tenting at our house, I finished up dealing with the exterminators and took a little detour before my next appointment to stop by my local BMW dealer to check out this interesting new bike.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Test Drive: 2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost

There is always a moment of nervousness when I get off the plane and am making my way to the rental car center. Even though I am using National, which is one of my favorite rental agencies, the selection of cars available in their Emerald Aisle at various airports is oftentimes a serious toss-up. I could end up with a great car, but I have also been saddled with a few duds from time to time. The day and time of arrival really can make a difference and sometimes, the best time to show up is when there are the fewest cars available because that means a greater likelihood of a free upgrade. As we got off the plane at Logan, I was silently hoping we would score something fun for our time in Boston.

Luckily, it would seem that I was worrying for nothing. When we got to the structure, the selection was gloriously thin, leaving a handful of SUVs, minivans, and, surprisingly, a pick-up truck or two. Tucked away in a corner, hiding behind a column, was a jet black Mustang covertible. I looked over at my wife to see if she was okay with the choice and got a nod of approval. Excellent!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Test Drive: 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti

As if there weren't enough cars in the mid-size luxury class, a nameplate long forgotten in the US rose from the ashes to once again try and sell their vehicles to a now SUV obsessed American public. Their efforts began with an obscenely overpriced supercar that most people didn't even know existed. Next came their two seat sports car that, while looking and driving exceptionally, made far too many compromises on design and comfort to meet a price point. And so we come to the company's effort to compete in the mainstream mid-sized luxury sedan segment; an overcrowded segment that is unfortunately losing popularity thanks to America's infatuation with crossovers. What company am I speaking of? None other than Alfa Romeo.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Product Review: Away Carry-on Luggage

With lots of travel scheduled for this year, I thought it was time to finally invest in a properly sized carry-on bag to avoid the challenges of dealing with checked baggage when flying. The size of the allowed carry-on continues to shrink every few years and the cost of a decent piece of luggage is far more than I honestly care to spend every few years replacing a bag so I dug around the web in search of something that I felt would serve as more than just a bag to carry clothes so that the expenditure would be worth the cost. There are lots of very expensive options with all manners of different features and functionality. Some came with GPS tracking and apps that performed all manners of nearly useless functions while others lacked anything unique at all, making it difficult to justify their high price. It took a lot of searching, but I finally stumbled upon Away, a small company that produces a Goldilocks carry-on bag that was just right for my needs.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Long Term Test: 2007 BMW K1200S post #8

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I have had to start over, in a sense, with the K1200S. My bike, before things went sideways, wore the BMW sport saddlebags and had the SW-Motech adapter installed for a top case. It also had a set of  auxiliary driving lights that have been useful on more than a few occasions. Now, I am in a position to need to re-install the bags, along with the components needed to hold the bags. Given that the opportunity has presented itself, I felt that this was the right time to add a Kaoko throttle lock, which has sat uninstalled in my garage now for a few months. The next time the bike goes into the shop, which may need to be soon, I will need to have a few additional items addressed as well.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Long Term Test: 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 post #5

While I have spent much time talking up the beautiful sounds and the excellent driving experience of the F-Type, I want to take a little time to really dive a bit deeper into the interior of this car. As one would expect, give the rather premium price tag, Jag has absolutely had to go for better materials in order to compete and has thrown in a lot of the right touches in the right places in order to make the rather intimate cabin feel like it is worthy of its price. Yet, it is not totally devoid of areas worthy of improvement, a reality of any car that is not outfitted with a bespoke interior or priced well into the six-figure range.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Overseas Adventures: Peña de Bernal

The last few months have been crazy. Work and home life have made finding time to write nearly impossible and with all the other commitments, the insanity of constant go-go-go has left my wife and I a bit exhausted. So we have been looking forward to this trip to Mexico to attend a friend's wedding for some time. Our initial research seemed to turn up little about the destination beyond the fact that it was just short of three hours drive north of Mexico City at the foot of one of the largest monoliths in the world. With few preconceptions in mind, we boarded our flight to Benito Juarez Airport.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Long Term Test: 1984 Shogun 600 post #4

Beach Streets Midtown open streets
event in Long Beach, CA
While the Orca has sat on the rack gathering dust, the Shogun has seen at least a little bit of use. As a part of the semi-annual Beach Streets event, I was able to not only get out and ride a little bit, but also give the Shogun some much needed and long overdue maintenance.

Key among the items that needed to be addressed was the chain, which had not been cleaned in easily a couple of years and a few hundred miles worth of riding. As a result, the drive train, including the chain, chain ring, and rear derailleur all had accumulated a wealth of road grime. Since we had plenty of people working the booth I was staffing at Beach Streets, I took the opportunity to give my chain and drive train a good scrubbing, With it freshly cleaned and lubed, I was able to take it for a quick ride along the Beach Streets route while the streets were still closed. For a bike that is over 30 years old, it still rides beautifully and is still my favorite bike ever.

Hopefully once the weather becomes agreeable again in the spring, I will be able to spend more time out riding. I might also have a few accessories that will be acquired to allow me greater latitude in carrying precious cargo. We shall see at the next update.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Long Term Test: 2012 Orbea Orca Bronze post #4

My poor Orbea has been sitting largely untouched for the last several months. Following some injuries sustained at the end of September, in conjunction with the colder weather and the craziness of my current home life, I simply have not had as much time to ride as I would like. To make matters worse, I also have not had the opportunity to give it a proper tune-up while it has sat out of service. Of course, once things settle down again, I intend to get back on the bike and get out there to meet the seemingly impossible task for me of riding 1,000 miles in a single year.

Still, in the meantime, even though I am not riding it, at least I get to enjoy looking at it. The Orca may not be the most wild design out there, but compared to the simplicity of the rest of my bikes, it is genuinely a great looking piece of art to hang up and be appreciated.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Long Term Test: 2016 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E Platinum post #1

So we finally did it. After all of my effusive praise heaped upon it and the many test drives, we finally have a Volvo V60 as a part of our long-term test fleet. Our recently acquired V60 wagon comes in a stately Savile Gray Metallic paint job and packs Volvo's very impressive Drive-E 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a well-sorted Aisin 8-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. In the Platinum trim level, the V60 comes with nearly every single available widget the Volvo offers: blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and on and on. The alphabet soup of driver assist features combined with the potent Drive-E engine and Volvo's downright phenomenal seats makes for what should be an excellent long-distance touring car. Add to that the storage capacity to hold luggage for the whole family and the V60 will likely find itself serving road trip duty at least a few times during its tenure with us.

Of course, the eagle-eyed among you will likely notice a few missing features that made me offer up my prodigious praise of the V60 in my prior reviews. The sport package with its gorgeous diamond-cut 19-inch wheels was not on the table because availability with the package and color options was pretty much non-existent. Somehow, when we were ready to finally grab one for ourselves, there were simply no cars in the area that could provide the right mix of trim level, packages, and color that we ideally wanted. Since this would not be my daily driver, I had to ultimately defer to the desires of the person who would spend the most time with it. Still, the standard wheels work well with the understated choice of paint color and give the V60 a dignified appearance.

Even so, the V60 is an exciting (yes, an exciting Volvo!) addition to our long-term fleet. It is also the second vehicle in our long-term fleet to come packed to the gills with driver assist systems, giving us an opportunity to compare how two different manufacturers implement these systems and to test how well they work in real world conditions. With autonomous cars marching ever closer to the consumer market, these interim steps of current generation driver assist systems give us a taste of the autonomous future to come.

We have a full three years with the V60 to find out if it really is as good as my test drives led me to believe.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura RLX Tech post #6

The recent acquisition of our 9th generation Honda Accord Touring places us in an interesting position to examine something: is the RLX genuinely worth the rather extensive premium over its more pedestrian relative? While a bit older in age, the RLX and the Accord both sit at the top of the sedan ranges for their respective brands. They theoretically serve the purpose of getting buyers to get large sedans with nearly full-size levels of leg room in more typically mid-size exterior dimensions. Sharing many traits, including their FWD architecture, similarly rated 3.5-liter V6 engines, and even their 6-speed automatic transmissions, the two cars are so close in spec that it is no surprise that people often complain about the RLX being little more than an Accord in a fancy suit. But since we actually have the two cars in our possession at the same time, let's actually compare a few of their key traits and see if the comparison is a fair one.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Welcome to 2017

It has been a little while since we have had a chance to post consistently. The last half of 2016 was fraught with big changes for both of us as we settled into new jobs, new roles at existing jobs, spent time dealing with personal items, and giving back to our communities. As a result, we not only did not have time to generate new content, but we have also missed numerous long-term updates, which we will work on getting caught up on this month. Once we get caught up, we hope to have some great new content to share throughout the year.

Happy 2017 and hope everyone's year has gotten off to a great start.